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Digital Subscriptions > Classic Pop > March 2019: The Specials > POLITICS & DANCING

POLITICS & DANCING

WHEN THE SPECIALS’ STUNNING NEW ALBUM ENCORE DESERVEDLY ENTERED THE UK CHART AT NO.1 EARLIER THIS MONTH, IT CEMENTED ONE OF THE ALL-TIME GREAT COMEBACKS. THEY STILL HAVE A MESSAGE FOR YOU, RUDY – AND THEY’RE FINALLY UNITED IN HOW TO TELL IT. “WE COULD HAVE BEEN AS MEGA AS U2,” THEY TELL CLASSIC POP. “WHAT A CRAZY BAND WE WERE…”

If it wasn’t quite Blur v Oasis for animosity, the recent battle of The Specials v Busted was certainly one of the most unlikely fights in pop history. Both bands had split at their height and faced years in the wilderness, though Terry Hall was less likely to form a splinter supergroup with McFly than the Year 3000 mob did with McBusted.

Both seemingly getting on better than ever, they each released their comeback albums at the start of February. The Specials’ magnificent Encore triumphed by 1,060 sales to beat Busted’s Half Way There, giving the ska survivors their first No.1 album.

“Being at No.1? That’s bonkers,” laughs The Specials’ bassist Horace Panter. “The word ‘cynical’ isn’t a nice one to use. But when I first heard our album had made No.1, I thought, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’ We did the best we possibly could with Encore and we’re really proud of it. But the response has been an awful lot more positive than I ever expected.”

It’s a coincidence that Encore arrives exactly a decade after The Specials played their first comeback shows, which were 28 years after they’d split up in the Top Of The Pops dressing room waiting to perform Ghost Town in 1981.

Still, the timing highlights how, more than ever, one of the most important bands Britain has ever produced are also more in sync with each other than at any time in the five decades since they first formed as The Coventry Automatics in 1977.

GETTING ON THE GOOD FOOT

It may have taken a decade for The Specials to release 10 new songs, but Encore is the energetic opposite of a record borne out of any careful planning. There’s no hint of cosiness in the album from three men in their sixties (well, nearly – Terry Hall, the baby of the group, hits 60 on 19 March). “We’re a dance band,” smiles singer/rhythm guitarist Lynval Golding. “How we approach our music is that we’re a dance band with a message. Did then, do now.” Horace agrees, saying: “I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if people aren’t dancing to our music. I’d be very upset if people aren’t dancing to our album. It’s what I still do in Coventry most weekends.” The final word is left to relative newcomer Nikolaj Torp Larsen, the serene Danish keyboardist who has been a Special since 2009, when Jerry Dammers became the sole founding member to skip the reunion: “The Specials audiences are great. If it grooves then they dance. And if it doesn’t groove, they start fighting. There’s such adrenaline at Specials shows. If everyone is dancing, it’s all good.”

In the 38 years between Ghost Town and Encore, Horace had been a member of several Specials splinter groups. When Lynval, Terry and Neville Staple left to form Fun Boy Three, Horace stayed with Jerry and drummer John Bradbury in The Special AKA. Various other offshoots followed, with Horace sticking around for Special Beat and X Specials. He’s in a better position than most to establish what it is about the core line-up of him, Lynval and Terry that makes Encore the work of the real Specials again. “I think it’s that we’re a lot more mature,” he reasons. “Everyone in this project was facing the same way; there was no agenda. Nobody was out of their head, nobody was getting in anyone’s face. It’s like that sign said at the recording of We Are The World: ‘Check your egos at the door’. That was one of the unsaid aspects of Encore, that everyone has the same purpose, and that’s been transmitted into the music. The cynical realist in me thought, ‘This could go wrong at any minute’. But it didn’t, it’s been brilliant.”

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About Classic Pop

Issue 50 of Classic Pop is on sale now! For our 50th issue, we had to come up with something very special – and we certainly have… our cover stars this month are The Specials, hot on the heels of the release of their superb chart-topping album, Encore. Our must-read interview with the band delves into their remarkable comeback and the story behind their superb new record. We also catch up with the iconic Gloria Estefan who tells us how she brought Latin grooves to the world and Bonnie Tyler talks us through her new studio album, which features a hotly-anticipated duet with Sir Rod Stewart. 30 years on, we celebrate New Order’s Technique in our latest Classic Album feature and we also serve up a buyer’s guide to the blue-eyed soul of Simply Red. As Wet Wet Wet face the future without Marti Pellow, we meet the band as they embark on a fresh chapter with new frontman, The Voice winner Kevin Simm. Our packed new album reviews section features the wonderful return of Chaka Khan plus Dido, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Paul Weller. On the reissues front, we check out a must-have 10-CD Heaven 17 boxset plus re-releases from David Bowie, Sparks, Erasure and more. In our live reviews section, we elbow our way down to the front for Gary Numan and Echo & The Bunnymen at the Rockaway Beach Festival plus gigs by Chrvches and The Christians. Enjoy the issue!